Spring bee time

The old “I’m very busy” fob off

A couple of recent experiences have reminded me that being busy is no excuse for being discourteous. Or for fobbing people off just because you don’t want to say no.

I’m sure we have all had some version of the following.

You go to a Chamber of Commerce or other business networking gathering, get into conversation and make a connection with someone who sounds like they could be interested in hiring your services. You follow up with an email or a phone call and you are told they are very busy just now, and probably for a few weeks to come, and why don’t you call again, say in a month’s time, when things should be clearer.

You duly note that, and call. And get the “very busy just now, yada yada yada” response.

At which point your experience tells you this is a lead that was never a prospect and you should just extricate yourself rapidly so you can spend time in more useful pursuits.

But sometimes, especially when you might not be flush with business or hot prospects, you might be tempted to go along with this game and dutifully call back in a month’s time or whenever – only to be told, almost certainly, that the person is very busy and could you call back….

Let’s face it, they were never really going to do business with you

So what happened here?

I believe it’s because we’re all brought up to be polite. Well, most of us. To some degree. There are of course people who like inflicting discomfort or pain, but the rest of us don’t like to say No.

And in some cultures people are particularly averse to saying “No”: they will say “maybe”, or “perhaps later”, when they really want you to drop the subject and not raise it again.

So when you pitched your story at the networking event, the other person didn’t want to discourage you, so you got a “Yes, sure” when you asked could you call, meet for a coffee, or however you phrased it.

Then when you called, your “prospect” did not have the moral courage to say “Look, I’ve thought it over and although your services sound great, they are not for us”.

So an assistant was told to tell you your “prospect” was very busy and could you call back, say in a couple of weeks time.

And you know, really, what’s going to happen then, don’t you? The busy story.

It’s usually, for truthfulness, on a par with “the dog ate my homework”.

The worst thing we can do is to go along with the game

Let’s face it, we’re all busy.

Either we are busy providing service for our clients, or we are busy chasing leads and seeking to turn them into paying clients.

So one day, when I got one of those responses, I thought “Hang on, don’t give me the ‘too busy’ story. I’m busy.”

So either my pitch wasn’t good enough, or the “prospect” had no relevant pain or need I could help with.

The rest is game-playing.

They don’t want to waste their time, but are too “polite” – or too wishy washy – to say so. ┬áIn fact, what they are doing is impolite. Discourteous.

And we are allowing ourselves to be cast in this game as the people with all the time in the world!

People who are desperate enough to be able to be fobbed off with the Busy story.

That’s bad for us, bad for our brand, and bad for our morale.

A sales trainer of mine used to be always on about having the right “posture” in the market.

Just like our mothers told us to stand up straight and put our shoulders back.

Playing the game of calling back, even though in our heart of hearts we know they are hoping and expecting we will just give up and go away, is not good for our posture. It can subtly undermine our self-confidence, our pride in what we have to offer.

And that’s surely bad for our business.

I admit I’ve been caught

I have to admit I’ve fallen into the trap in the past and dutifully made the calls, been put off, made the calls, sometimes over a period of months.

No more.

My response now is “Well, I’m busy myself, so what I believe would work better is for you/your boss to call me when you can clear some time to speak, if you are still interested, and with luck I may be available at that time.”

In sales terms, that’s head up, shoulders back.

Of course, by not playing we may lose some deals

No one can guarantee that, if you turn the game around and make it your game, not theirs, you won’t thereby miss out on one or more great deals.

But it’s the way I prefer to play the game these days.

On my terms.

I’ve also become much better at being frank early, up front, with those pitching to me and where I know I am not a real prospect.

I’ll even cut people short in the midst of a pitch – doing that as politely as I can – and tell them I am not their market, or words to that effect. They might be discomforted at the moment, but I know that my behaviour then has actually been more thoughtful and courteous towards them than that of the people who are on their list to be called back, and called back, and called back.

Let’s us not have people spinning our wheels with their “He is very busy, could you call back in x weeks time?” game.

And let’s us not do it to others.

Life’s too short for such silly games.

I know this goes against the grain of what I was taught – and maybe what you were taught – about persistent selling, but I’m ok with it.

Your view? Any related experience you would like to share?

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